Public transport need of the hour, yet their numbers in decline
When experts are advocating for a planned public transport system to ease traffic congestion and ensure road safety, the number of buses and minibuses are actually declining in the city.
Their numbers saw a sharp decline in Dhaka as well as other parts of the country in the last one and half years, intensifying people's suffering amid the pandemic.
Although the number of private cars and micro-buses have gradually declined over the last three years, the number of such vehicles operating on roads is still too high, said experts.
In fact, their numbers increased again this year, according to Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) data.
"When developed countries are moving for public transport-oriented development, we are moving towards more private cars and motorcycles due to lack of proper planning," said Prof Hadiuzzaman, director of Accident Research Institute at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (Buet).
It is amid this paradoxical situation that the country is going to observe World Car Free Day tomorrow -- a day which aims to discourage the use of private cars and encourage cycling, walking or using public transport instead.
The day has been observed in Europe since the 1970s and in Bangladesh since 2006.
WHAT DATA SHOWS
A total of 2,395 buses were registered with BRTA last year, across the country, with 1,792 in Dhaka.
But, only 1,075 buses were registered in the whole country, with 849 in Dhaka, in the first eight months of this year, shows BRTA data.
A total of 620 minibuses were registered across the country last year, 133 of which were in Dhaka. But only 220 buses were registered till August this year in the whole country, with 97 in Dhaka.
Meanwhile, private cars, motorcycles and microbuses continued to rise this year.
A total of 12,403 private vehicles got registered last year in whole country, of which 11,150 were in Dhaka. But, 9,470 cars got registered in the country this year, of which 8,396 were in Dhaka.
A total of 3.11 lakh bikes got registered across the country last year, with 78,551 in Dhaka alone, while 1.98 lakh got registered till August this year, with 54,139 in Dhaka.
Meanwhile, traffic congestion remains a major problem for Dhaka, as a World Bank report in 2017 highlighted that in the last 10 years, average traffic speed has dropped from 21km to 7km (hour).
WHY THIS PARADOXICAL DEVELOPMENT?
Mahbubur Rahman, organising secretary of Dhaka Road Transport Owners Association, blamed the adverse impact of the lockdown due to Covid-19 for the declining number of buses.
He also said route permits for buses were suspended for a long time, which contributed to the decrease in numbers.
However, experts found lack of planning and policies behind the decline of buses and poor service of public transport.
Prof Hadiuzzaman said Trip Length Distribution Function (TLDF) should be the determiner of transport mode for a city.
Trip distribution is a model of the number of trips that occur between each origin zone and each destination zone.
According to a Buet survey last year, the TLDF pattern of the city shows that 70 percent trips are covered by public transport and walking, while only five percent are covered by cars and other non-motorised vehicles.
"So we should put more stress on public transport and footpaths," he told The Daily Star.
As there is little scope to increase roads in Dhaka, policies should prioritise planned public transport, he added.
Atiqur Rahman, project officer of Work for a Better Bangladesh Trust, said while restrictions should be imposed on private cars, different government incentives like provision of easy car loans are encouraging more people to purchase them.
He also urged the authorities to emphasise revamping BRTC bus service, introducing bus franchise system, which will bring all the buses under some particular companies, and prioritising Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) service for developing the public transport system in the country.
Keeping footpath useable and developing infrastructure for cycling is also important for easing traffic congestion, he added.
Dhaka Transport Co-ordination Authority (DTCA) is the government organisation leading the celebration of World Car Free Day.
Its executive director Khandakar Rakibur Rahman, in response to why public transport is overlooked in the country, said, "We are observing the day precisely to give emphasis on public transport."
Big changes in the public transport system would be visible once the bus franchise system and bus route rationalisation are implemented, he claimed.
Asked about the delay in implementing the systems, he said "background work" is taking time.